We call memory the ability of the brain to store, encode and retrieve information acquired through experience or various learning mechanisms. It allows the living being to derive learning from what it has experienced and to modify its behavior for a better adaptation to future situations, which is why it is an essential part of learning. Types of Memory characteristics and factors
Memory is not exclusive to human beings, but rather shares this capacity with higher animals. While there is no proven explanation for the phenomenon of memory and thinking, the former is believed to be a consequence of neural networks that are created through a repetitive synaptic connection between nerve cells.
The ability to form memories, however, appears to be spread across the lobes and partitions of the brain, along with a vast network of about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synaptic connections between them. Such a biological information storage apparatus contains, according to estimates (since there is no way to measure the brain’s capacity, between 1 and 10 terabytes (1Tb = 1024 Mb) of information. According to Carl Sagan, this is equivalent to about ten trillion pages of encyclopedia.
The study of memory
The study of memory began with ancient civilizations, whose philosophers attributed various divine properties to it. For the ancient Greeks, for example, Mnemosine was the goddess of memory.
In the 19th century, the formal study of memory and its forms was deepened, based on the contributions of William James (1890) and especially Herman Ebbinghaus (1885).
Later it was displaced from the field of interest of psychology given the predominance of the doctrine of behaviorism during the early twentieth century and it regained its importance as a vital subject of the study of the mind from 1950 with the cognitive revolution.
On the other hand, the emergence of the computer as an analogy of the brain capacities of the human being supposed a new look at memory. Types of Memory characteristics and factors
Difference with animals
Human memory differs from that of animals in that it is less subject to the rigidity of impulses. A human child is born as a blank page and will be able to record on it all the events that happen to him in life, to define his identity based on his vital memories.
At the same time, vital functions that do not require learning, such as breathing or reflexes, are in much more primitive and basic nerve supports of our body, so we should not learn to do them.
The most common classification of forms of memory has to do with the senses involved in the formation of memory (sensory memory), or with the evocative capacity of past events, as occurs when we smell a familiar aroma or listen to a childhood song.
These types of sensory memory are auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory. Of all of them, the auditory and the visual (the most important senses for our species), are usually the most predominant.
There is also an operative memory, dedicated no longer to the storage of this sensory information but to its elaboration in memories, that is, to the leap in meaning between an external stimulus and a past experience.
Finally, a distinction is usually made between primary (short-term) and secondary (long-term) memory.
Long-term memory characteristics
Long-term memory also called inactive or secondary memory, is one that allows us to go back to events far away in time with which there is no direct and recent real connection, but remote and often imprecise. It’s biological mechanisms are still unknown, but it is thought to constitute a form of short-term memory that, through patterns of repetition and retransmission, becomes more permanently but invisible.
It is also known that the most emotionally significant events, that is, more painful or more pleasant, tend to be fixed with greater energy in long-term memory, and can be present in daily behavior even though the subject does not consciously evoke them, as Sigmund Freud warned in his studies on the nature of trauma. Types of Memory characteristics and factors
Short-term memory characteristics
Short-term memory also called active or primary memory, is what allows a limited amount of information to be maintained in mental attention, which is thus immediately available for use and recall for a short period of time. After this period, the memory is forgotten, disappears, and is replaced by new ones.
It is distinguished from secondary memory in that its elaborations do not usually last, and in most cases are irretrievable later. It is considered to be an independent data “warehouse”, with totally independent activation mechanisms and biochemical reflexes.
Phases of memory
Memory operates on the basis of three different phases, during which mental attention fulfills specific roles. These phases are:
- Registration or coding. Information from the senses is transformed into verbal, visual, and sensory codes that can be handled independently. These codes can be reflected on or they can be transmitted through language. It is a complex process of abstraction.
- Storage. Retention of information, both in short-term memory (ephemeral but fast) and in long-term memory (permanent but slow and imprecise).
- Recovery. Also called memory or collection, it is about the location and updating of information, its evocation, and returns to consciousness, from which it can return to the slightly changed memory. Types of Memory characteristics and factors
We will distinguish two levels of memory function:
- On a physical level. The neurons of the brain connect their extensions called dendrites, to synapse and passed from one to another a series of signals in the form of electrical impulses and chemicals. These electrical impulses are then translated into sensations in the cerebral cortex.
- On a psychic level. The various forms of memory are in constant interaction and evocation (conscious and unconscious) of the emotional, logical, experiential, or whatever content a subject needs in their daily life. This collaboration allows for the complexity of the mental processes of reasoning and deduction. Types of Memory characteristics and factors
Factors that negatively influence memory
It is known that lack of exercise, extreme mental passivity and chronic lack of sleep, thyroid problems (metabolic), smoking, and some situations of stress emotional such as depression and anxiety, have debilitating effects on the dynamics of the I remember.
Factors that positively influence memory
On the contrary, intellectually stimulating habits, such as reading and mental exercises, the intake of antioxidants such as green tea, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and the endorphins and de-stressing hormones that the body secretes during physical exercise or sexual intercourse, have an enhancing effect on memory and mental processes. Adequate sleep and coffee intake are also among these positive influence factors.
Diseases that affect memory
There are diseases and pathologies that affect the functioning of human memory, in a range that can range from temporary amnesias, such as that suffered during a state of traumatic shock that recovers naturally and gradually, to degenerative diseases that corrupt memory such as Alzheimer’s disease, caused by the appearance of plaques and knots in different regions of the cerebral cortex that prevent proper synapse. Types of Memory characteristics and factors